As we see in Matthew 7:24-27, the only suitable foundation is God’s Word. The wise man, as Jesus says, is one who “hears these sayings of Mine, and does them.” The foolish man is one who hears them, but does not do them. Perhaps there were those in Jesus’ audience who were little more than spiritual tourists. Perhaps there were Pharisees who were hoping to catch Jesus in error, and had no intention of following the Master’s teaching. All of this may be true, but Jesus focused His attention on a specific group of people: His disciples (Matthew 5:1-2, Luke 6:20).
It is Jesus’ closest followers who are being challenged to make the right choice. Are they going to take the narrow gate, or the wide gate (verses 13-14)? Are they going to bear good fruit, or bad fruit (verses 15-20)? Are they going to say and do, or just say (verses 21-23)? The wrong answer to any of those questions will result in spiritual destruction, unquenchable fire, and eternal separation from God.
When we get to verse 24, Jesus is ready to make a conclusion: The disciple who chooses to enter the narrow gate, who chooses to bear good fruit, and who chooses to do the Father’s will, is someone who will stand firm in the judgment. When God puts the superstructure of his life to the test, it will survive, but only if he is firmly anchored to the right foundation.
Whether our house stands on the rock or on the sand is, indeed, a matter of choice. Through the years I haven’t made much practical use of my degrees in geology. I haven’t walked out, hammer in hand, to search for oil and gold. Even so, I promised my wife that I would keep the local natural hazards in mind. I wouldn’t knowingly buy a house on a fault line, build on a flood plain, or ask her to live in the shadow of an active volcano. What about you? How did you choose the house you are living in right now? Was it a last-minute decision? Was it merely a matter of convenience, or did you just like the brickwork? Most of us, I am sure, thought long and hard before signing our life away for the next thirty years. How much more should we think about the decisions that will affect our eternal life!
Clearly the first builder made the right choice in the right way. Jesus highlights this point by repeating the builder’s intentions: the house survived the storm precisely because it was built on a carefully chosen foundation (verse 25). This cannot have been an easy task. A rocky outcrop or hillside would have been a lot harder to work with than a flat piece of ground. The man on the sandy plain was closer to his crops and a supply of water, but he was also closer to the flood when the river broke its banks.
Sadly, many people go through life without making any plans for eternity. Like the foolish builder they construct a life for themselves without paying serious attention to the disaster looming on the horizon. That disaster, of course, is to fail the test of faith (2 Corinthians 13:5). To build a life on the words of Jesus is not easy, but the rewards are incalculable.
Not only do we get the impression from this parable that there is a difference in how each builder approached the task at hand, we also get the impression that both houses were essentially the same. From a distance, both would have had windows, walls, doors, and a roof. So also the life of the faithful Christian and the life of the one who merely says “Lord, Lord” will look very similar—at least on the surface. Both will have jobs, spouses, children, and bills to pay. Their cars might even pull out of the driveway at the same time on a Sunday morning as they go to their respective places of worship. The authentic Christian, however, will have a living and active faith (James 2:20).
Finally, Jesus emphasizes the mighty crash of the foolish man’s house (verse 27). This is set in contrast to the other builder’s good choices (verse 25). The winds might have blown some thatching from the wise man’s roof. The waters might have torn away a brick or two, but his house on the rock stood firm. As for the foolish man, he might have looked around and seen his house holding together just fine, but then, in an instant, collapse in catastrophic failure around his head. We face the same danger today. As we look around we might convince ourselves that sincere belief is enough, but this is simply not true. We must ground our spiritual life on obedience to God. Without that foundation, our precipitous fall from the Master’s presence will seem all the more disastrous (Luke 12:47-48).
As New Testament Christians we need to keep in mind that this parable is aimed squarely at us. We can tell ourselves that it really only applies to rank sinners, or our denominational friends and neighbors. In reality, we need to look closer to home. Indeed, we need to look at the home we have made for ourselves in this life. Have we ever given serious thought to constructing a coherent Christian worldview? Are our lives an eclectic mix of materialism, relativism, and other worldly ideas covered by a thin coating of churchgoing respectability (read, for comparison, Ezekiel 13:10-16)? If so, we need to start afresh. There is nothing to stop us following the example of the wise man, and reestablishing our life on Christ, and Christ alone (1 Corinthians 3:11; 2 Timothy 2:19).
Even if our worldview is in good shape, we cannot neglect the foundation. Have we been down in the spiritual cellar lately to check for mold and decay? Have we inspected the pillars of our faith for signs of peeling and cracking? Are our doctrinal subfloors straight and level, or are we sinking into mediocrity and compromise? We must make a deliberate choice, on a daily basis, to ground our life on the words of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.
[A version of this article appeared originally in Upon the Rock, July/August. 2007.]
© 2007 – 2010, Trevor Major. All rights reserved.